Facebook bans Israeli firm over ‘fake Africa accounts’

Facebook has banned an Israeli company it believes was behind hundreds of fake accounts, pages and groups mostly targeting elections in six African countries.

The American social media company says the people behind the network of what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” pretended to be locals in Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia.

They posted frequently about political news such as elections and included candidate views and criticisms of political opponents.

They had names like Hidden Africa and the Secret Democratic of Congo. One post seemed to support new DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and urged an opposition candidate to concede victory.

Facebook reported in a blog post that the manipulative activity originated in Israel and also covered Latin America as well as Southeast Asia.

The social network’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, wrote that 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook pages, groups and events had been removed for abusing its platform.

The people behind the phantom accounts spent around $812,000 between December 2012 and April 2019.

Five of the six African countries targeted have had elections since 2016 and Tunisia will hold national polls later this year.

A website for a Tel-Aviv based company called Archimedes Group, which appears to be the same one banned by Facebook, says it is a leader in large scale campaigns worldwide.

The only product listed on the website is called Archimedes Tarva, described as capable of large scale platform creation and unlimited online accounts operation.

The BBC has approached Archimedes Group for comment.

The now-defunct Cambridge Analytica was also accused of exploiting Facebook’s platform to interfere in African elections in countries like Nigeria and Kenya.

Officials at Facebook previously told the BBC they were working to combat misinformation in major African elections.

In the just concluded South African election, Facebook ran advertisements in national newspapers warning against the spread of fake news on WhatsApp, which it owns.

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